A member of the Harlem Globetrotters is speaking out on racial insensitivities after two White Alabama news broadcasters threw fruit, including a banana, at him on live television.
Maxwell Pearce, 24, known as “Hops Pearce” on the legendary basketball team, on Sunday released clips of the incident, which took place in January on “Good Day Alabama” for WBRC Fox6 News in Birmingham, Alabama. WBRC is a CNN affiliate.
Pearce told CNN on Tuesday that he was on the show promoting a Globetrotter’s basketball game taking place at Samford University and was demonstrating some of the team’s basketball tricks, which is also seen in a video of the segment posted on the news station’s website.
In the video, Pearce can be seen standing in a circle with an anchor and weather forecaster imitating the team’s “magic circle” and ball handling moves. While preparing to toss the ball to Pearce, the weather forecaster throws a tangerine instead.
“You weren’t expecting that one,” the weather forecaster says while laughing and then tosses the ball to Pearce who responds, “I certainly wasn’t – here you can take that back” as he hands the fruit back.
The segment on the website ends, but in an extended version obtained by CNN and in a clip posted on Pearce’s Instagram account, another tangerine is thrown at him off camera and moments after a banana is thrown to him.
Pearce told CNN he was not sure who threw the second tangerine at him but said he could clearly see the banana was thrown by another White anchor off set.
The station issues an apology
On Wednesday, anchor Clare Huddleston and weather forecaster Mickey Ferguson apologized to Pearce in videos posted on the station’s website. Ferguson said he tossed a tangerine in jest, and was sorry the action was hurtful.
“It’s very important to learn to see the world through other people’s eyes and as I attempt to see through Max’s eyes as best I can, I can see how my actions confused and hurt him,” Ferguson said. “And I just want Max to know I am sorry my actions hurt him. That truly was not the intention of my heart.”
Huddleston said she and Ferguson had tossed fruit to see if Pearce could catch it. Huddleston said she apologized to Pearce “face-to-face in the studio” once a coworker told her the racial connotation behind the throwing of the banana.
“We shook hands and I looked him in the eyes and said, ‘Are we good?’ He replied, ‘We’re good’,” she said. “And I realized we weren’t good. My actions were hurtful and Max, I want to say this again, I am sorry. I certainly did not mean to offend you or hurt you in any way.”
Pearce told CNN on Tuesday an apology from the broadcasters months later would not be “sincere to me.”
WBRC News Director Shannon Isbell issued an apology to Pearce in a statement on Monday.
“WBRC Fox6 would like to take this opportunity to again extend a heartfelt and sincere apology to Globetrotter Max Pearce,” Isbell said in a statement to AL.com. “An on-air segment promoting a Globetrotters event with Mr. Pearce months ago was intended to be lighthearted. However, it became something deeply hurtful to our guest as the result of our lack of understanding.”
Pearce told CNN he was “shocked” when the banana landed in his hand and that he felt “utter disgust.”
“I couldn’t tell whether it was reality or not because I was in such disbelief this could happen on a live television segment,” he said.
Pearce said he hesitated to speak out on the incident when it first happened, but said the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others stirred his emotions and made him revisit the incident.
Asked if he thought the incident occurred because the anchors were unaware of the racial context of throwing a banana at a Black person or if it was motivated by racism, Pearce said “I can’t say either or” but said “it is unacceptable for someone to have that much experience” and live close to the birth of civil rights movement to not be aware of the history.
“The lack of cultural awareness is extremely shocking and it’s very telling about the state of this country right now,” he said.
On August 14, the news station aired a conversation on race and that included an interview with Pearce, who discussed the incident. Isbell, who conducted the interview, said during the segment “two of the members of my team threw fruit, including a banana, not knowing the historical implications of that action.”
Isbell also told AL.com that the station had been in discussions with Pearce and that they were happy to have him on the show.
“We are grateful for the several enlightening, educational conversations we have had with Max over the last two months,” Isbell said in the story. “I was happy to have him on our show about racial inequality and faith that aired last Friday.”
CNN reached out to Isbell and WBRC on Tuesday but did not receive a response.
‘This is disrespectful on the level of me as a Black man’
The professional basketball community has been vocal about racial violence and discrimination in the wake of police killings of Black people.
After the season was suspended on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic, several players, including LeBron James, have advocated Black Lives Matter via their social media platforms. The NBA and WNBA have also also donned political statements on their jerseys, wearing warmup shirts with social justice messages such as “Say Her Name” and “I Am a Man” in place of their last name.
Born in Tuckahoe, New York, Pearce is a graduate of Purchase College and joined the Globetrotters in 2018 after winning the Dark Horse Dunk Competition. He said current and former Harlem Globetrotters have been very supportive of him.
Pearce also said he learned from his experience to not brush incidents like his off and said he hopes his experience inspires others to react when they witness or have a similar experience. He also said the issue is bigger than it happening to a Harlem Globetrotter.
“At the end of the day, the crux of this issue that this happened to me as a black man. I think a lot of people are getting so hung up on the fact that I was in a Harlem Globetrotter uniform when this transpired,” he said.
“So they’re trying to draw parallels to the fun that the Globetrotters bring and say, ‘Oh well they were just throwing fruit and they just wanted to be fun.’ But this is disrespectful on the level of me as a Black man. And in no way shape or form should throwing fruit at someone unknowingly be acceptable.”